Save Mayan Conservation Practices

by Creative Action Institute

A mural made from clay bas-reliefs by women artisans and young environmentalists under the guidance of ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió now decorates the exterior walls of the historic public baths in Totonicapán’s 48 Cantons.

Mother bathes son at public baths

Courtesy of Reyes Josue Morales

Don Juan, the community potter, lets me know the clay is ready to be molded. And so we carry the clay lumps to the library. Women artisans, high school students and children from Xolsacmalja library will work on this clay.

Stepping into the thermal baths takes you hundreds of years into the past. We picked this iconic spot because we’re studying ancestral practices, and these baths dating back to 1855 represent a source of strength for the community. Our mural is the result of investigating the natural elements at work in the baths as our subject matter, and learning traditional pottery techniques.

Families come here to bathe together, babies have their first bath, and the elderly soothe their pain with the sulfur- and blackberry-infused medicinal waters. The common expression by bathers is “I’m warming my bones,” and the atmosphere in this steamy place is healthy and relaxed. There are three spa sections: Tortuga (Turtle), a maternity area, Barco (Boat), which is for women to use, and Ballena (Whale), for men.

Women potters sculpt clay-bas reliefs for public paths

Families arrive on foot or in small buses from several communities, carrying their hampers and natural sponges, starting as early as 4 o’clock in the morning. You can see their glowing, tight-skinned faces as they leave, showing the effect of the sulfury waters.

The most common artisanal clay sculpture process involves forming clay shapes, waiting for them to dry for about three weeks, heating them and then applying lead. We are currently in the waiting period–sun-drying the sculptures and taking them outdoors as the rainy weather allows. The exterior wall of the baths awaits our work, and we are excited and eager to finally see how the pieces come out from Don Juan’s oven.

See more images of this project.

This project is being carried out in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.


Under rain-heavy skies, ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió, teachers from the Xeman and Rancho de Teja schools and Josué Morales, the local artist who has collaborated on this project over the past two years, head to the most remote communities in the area of Los Rocosos in Totonicapan, Guatemala.

Student shows his illustration, environmental picture book workshop, courtesy of ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio

The picture book workshop is a continuation of the previous training workshops with the teachers with whom we created the book Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides.

To break down the process for the teachers, we divided the workshop into two parts: writing and illustration. The steps we covered included body movement dynamics, word games, drawing exercises with music, shared reading and presentation of visual images.

Mind you, we are not telling just any story. We study and communicate such interconnected topics as reforestation, indigenous practices, recycling and garbage control, natural disasters, forest management and community empowerment. All of these issues are closely related and represent a cascade of causes and effects.

In just one morning consisting of four hours of work, we delved into these subjects, gently encouraging each student to fully participate. At the end of the session, amidst applause and congratulations, everyone got a chance to read their story out loud, show their drawing or pose for a photo in front of their colored chalk masterpiece on the floor.

It was a special activity because we Luis Quino from ArtCorps and Barbara Vallarino and Melissa Haley from our partner EcoLogic Development Fund shared the experience, and the 60-something students and the teachers were brimming with smiles and appreciation. But we are equally grateful to them, for having opened a space for us to share and, together, project a better future.

Leer en español

The Young Leaders in Conservation and ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrio were about to celebrate the completion of a stunning 80 x 90 foot mosaic made from plastic bottle caps, but one of the young artists was dissatisfied.

Aroldo asks me to bend down so he can whisper into my ear: “This isn’t good. I don’t like it.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the group celebrates the conclusion of the project that we’ve worked on for the last two months at the Xolsacmalja community library: An image measuring 80 by 90 feet made completely out of plastic drink bottle tops. An attempt to make a game, and manifest color, out of recycling. A plastic mosaic.

Between the shrieks of the other workshop participants, empty glue bottles scattered on the floor, and struggles to grab the camera, I want to know why Aroldo isn’t happy with the final outcome. He was the one, after all, who created the design on the vinyl and he never missed a single workshop.

Aroldo remains at a distance and continues to shake his head NO.

Finally he says to me: “Tree trunks are not pink.”

Hmmm. “Matisse was a very famous painter who painted trees red.” It is the first thing that comes to mind as I search for an answer that will make him feel like an “understood artist.”

But Aroldo keeps looking for brown drink tops within the bag. There’s not a single one! Funny that the drink companies here don’t use brown in their product design.

I try to make sure that the rest of the group doesn’t get discouraged over the “pink trunk.” So, as a closing activity, we imagine the dawn, when the sun bathes the forests and cities, the adobe houses and the buildings, in pinks and oranges. We can only see it for a few minute. Aroldo, now you see?

His buddies have already put away the materials and are playing ball on the field, but Aroldo is still looking skeptically at the plastic tree.

Meanwhile, evening is falling and if we look beyond the soccer field, the forest is tinged with pinks and purples.

This project is being carried out in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.

Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides
Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides

The colorful book “Wisdom of the Rocky Hillsides” (Etamabál re u wo Xaq) is hot off the press. In preparation for the book launch at the Boston Public Library on May 16, 2013, ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió journeys through the book’s eight stories and captivating illustrations.

These short stories from the communities of the Panquix, Rancho de Teja, Xolnahualá, Xeman, Chuipec, Patuj, Chuicaxtun and Pacapox in Totonicapán, Guatemala, transport us with images of communal forests, birds, snakes and dolls made of gold that bring good fortune. These ancestral stories, told by the grandmothers and grandfathers of these communities to their grandchildren, transmit important messages about caring for the forest and water resources, respecting nature and the close relationship between human beings and the natural world.

This inter-generational project, which began months ago while traversing the mountain roads of these far-flung communities, has become tangible through this book dedicated to keeping traditional memory alive. By documenting stories from this oral tradition, we seek to preserve the cultural identity and understanding of the K’iche’ Mayan people for generations to come. Read more about the process of documenting and illustrating the stories.

Thanks to the grandmothers and grandfathers, and the teachers and the children who participated in this project, today we have a document that keeps the indigenous K’iche’ Maya language alive and takes us on a timeless journey to a place where rocks have special powers and forests embrace the clouds.

This project was realized in collaboration with EcoLogic Development Fund.

Conservation Activity
Conservation Activity
Connecting Youth to Ancestral Practices
Connecting Youth to Ancestral Practices

Thank you to all of our supporters for helping to prepare young leaders like Victor! The story of “the littlest changemaker” is told by ArtCorps Artist Isabel Carrió, who has worked with Victor and the other ArtCorps’ Youth Leaders in Conservation in Guatemala since January 2012.

In the first of the ArtCorps’ Youth Leaders in Conservation workshops, Victor was timid and withdrawn. But as the weeks went by, he began to show a new side of himself. Creative activities helped him break through his shell, and Victor began to express himself and engage in the learning process. His reserved manner became one of joy and confidence–and the peers who used to ignore him now admired his work. If he didn’t show up to a workshop session, everyone asked about him.

Over the year, the smallest member has become the group’s natural leader. Back in August 2012, a portrait taken by Victor was showcased in the Green Week photography exhibit. He is the most creative and passionate participant, and Victor has developed the ability to lead us to places we never dreamed of.


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Organization Information

Creative Action Institute

Location: Ipswich, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Louisa Trackman
Ipswich, MA United States

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